Candles were lit jointly by ambassadors from the United States, Israel, Canada, leaders from National League of Democracy (NLD) and Parliament in Myanmar’s only synagogue to celebrating the Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.
“Today we have a powerful message to convey-- the importance of religious freedom and tolerance for all minorities,” said Rabbi Eliot J. Baskin from Denver, the US, hosting the ceremony on December 12, marking the end of the eight-day celebration period.
Those attending included U Tin Oo, Vice Chairman of the NLD, and U Sein Tin Win, Speaker of Yangon Region Parliament who stood side by side, together with Daniel Zonshine, Israeli Ambassador to Myanmar, Derek Mitchell, US Ambassador to Myanmar, and Mark McDowell, Canadian Ambassador to Myanmar. They each kindled a candle on the menorah and sang the hymn Ma’oz Tzur while holding hands.
Museah Yeshua Synagogue was filled with about 150 people. The celebration gathered the local Jewish community of about 20 people, and non-Jewish guests from embassies, the government and other religious leaders including Baha’i, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhism.
This wa the fifth year when Hanukkah was celebrated as an open event in Yangon for Sammy Samuel, the organizer and this generation’s preserver of the synagogue. After Myanmar saw the transition from a military junta to a quasi-civilian government, Moses Samuel, late father of Sammy, decided to celebrate Hanukkah by engaging more communities as this festival allows non-Jewish people to take part, wrote Sammy Samuel in “Hanikkan with Spirit in Yangon.”
“The message of the holiday Hanukkah is fighting for the religious freedom,” Sammy Samuel told Mizzima. “This country has a long history of religious tolerance. It’s hard to imagine another country that has different religious leaders sitting side by side in one room celebrating a holiday. But in here, it is possible. So this is also a message to the world.”
The synagogue is located in a busy neighborhood of paint shops and net sellers run largely by Muslims and Hindus. A Muslim mosque lies only a few metres away, while a Hindu Temple sits on the upper block on the same road.
Mr Ahmed, 53, who was born in the community, said that as a Muslim he lived a peacefully life here with Indians and Chinese.
The Canadian Ambassador Mr McDowell said he was “pleasantly surprised by the coexistence of different religious believers in Yangon.”
Norman Pated, who has been running a store nearby for 20 years, said, “There is a very good relationship between different religioun in Yangon, but not out of Yangon.”
A. Daly, working as an engineer in Nay Pyi Taw, came specially to Yangon to join the Hanukkah. He said the harmony of different religions could have not existed without the control of the government.
Sammy Samuel said he hoped that a unity in belief and values could go beyond politics and be embraced worldwide.